Orange Environment (OE or OEI) is a twenty-five year old non-profit, tax exempt (501(C)3) environmental organization dedicated to protecting the environment and communities of our region. OE serves Orange County, New York and the surrounding border areas of the Hudson Valley and New York and New Jersey Highlands between the Hudson and Delaware Rivers. Our scenic landscape contrasts striking mountains with the broad and verdant Wallkill River Valley and old, historic cities with a rural and agrarian core land use. The Ramapo River runs south to NJ, serving as a drinking water source for millions of NY and NJ residents. Given our additional proximity and connectedness to the New York Metropolitan region, it is little wonder that our region has been the locus of many epic land use battles. Extraordinary growth pressure is turning our farms into subdivisions, our scenic roadways into commercial strips, and our communities into exclusive enclaves beyond the reach of indigenous families and the less well off. The prospects of our main road, Route 17, becoming an Interstate Highway, and of massive casino development in neighboring Sullivan County, promise to compound already severe traffic and mobility issues brought about by Orange County’s status as New York’s fastest growing county.
Formed to block the sale of a regional water resource in 1982, OE brought together a successful yet flexible legal, educational, and issue-focused approach. We then pioneered New York State’s response to radon gas, conducting surveys of community response, setting up a coop model testing and mitigation program and dispensing information to many thousands of residents until New York programs could take over. OE successfully engaged in multi-stakeholder negotiations, with community visioning and planning, to develop community oversight programs for five potentially hazardous facilities. For example, when Orange County led New York State in ambient lead air pollution, OE forced the source, the RSR battery recycling plant in Wallkill, N.Y., a secondary lead smelter, to clean up its act and submit to community oversight. We engaged in a multi-year effort to use a novel process of sustainability planning and impact assessment in an effort to spur the redevelopment of the Port of Newburgh as an appropriate stimulus for local employment and economy and for creating environmental justice. And our intervention into the permit hearings for the new Calpine gas-fired power plant resulted in the funding of a citizen oversight committee for the plant, research-guided efforts to reduce regional air pollution, and development of a program to educate the public about appropriate energy sources that will hopefully replace this transitional technology.
On the legal front, OE won a string of administrative and civil court victories to close both Orange County and the mob-run Al Turi Landfills and scared off incinerator proposals. Community research on psycho-social impacts of the landfill supported the suits. This twenty-year battle against environmentally destructive waste disposal was matched by a campaign for materials recycling that led directly to the currently permitted Orange Oxy-nol facility that will convert solid waste to ethanol fuel, achieving better than 90% materials recovery and replacing the MTBE gasoline additive that is currently contaminating drinking water nationwide through a better method than corn- derived ethanol. OE defeated the growth inducing and environmentally destructive Orange County Water Loop Project, directing the county instead toward conservation, and resource protection. And OE spun off the precursor to the successful Orange County Land Trust and later funded the land trust with $750,000 won in a legal settlement from a nine-year court battle with Orange County.
We routinely organize, train, and support a network of local grass roots efforts to change the course of communities in a sustainable direction. We have reached out to the larger community and to school-aged children with a rich variety of programs, including classroom and group lectures and lessons, a battery recycling program that recycled 7 tons of batteries in four years, community sustainability planning and environmental impact assessment workshops, and Earth Day celebrations that drew 5,000 people at a clip. Research has been conducted establishing benchmarks for community satisfaction with the local environment, and on identifying factors which contribute to environmental action in community members. Along the way, OE has been instrumental in protecting a prehistoric site, the Dutchess Quarry Caves at Lookout Mountain, which connects early human contact dating back 12,500 years to local flora and fauna. We played a key role in stopping the development of Sterling Forest, a new city for 25,000 residents in the midst of the largest connected natural area in the northeast.